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Durham University

Research & business

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Publication details for Professor Cheryl McEwan

McEwan, C., Hughes, A. & Bek, D. (2014). Futures, ethics and the politics of expectation in biodiversity conservation: A case study of South African sustainable wildflower harvesting. Geoforum 52: 206-215.

Author(s) from Durham


Corporate efforts to demonstrate ‘sustainability’ within production networks are driving a continued demand for new metrics. This raises questions concerning which experts will be enlisted in their creation, what data and calculative methods they will draw on, and how and whether different publics will be convinced of the rigour of these metrics and their ethical purpose. Debates about futures and expectations tend to be western-centric; in response, this paper highlights the sophisticated environmental science and knowledges in a global South context where politics and uncertainty are of utmost importance. It draws on research into sustainable wild flower harvesting in the Cape Floral Kingdom (CFK), in the Western Cape province of South Africa, to explore the politics of expectation and future-making driving debates about biodiversity conservation and socio-economic empowerment within rural communities. It focuses specifically on how expectations of technologies, databases, knowledge and the environment play out in this particular site of production, influencing debates about sustainability, but also perspectives on what is ethical. The case study demonstrates that expectations are neither uniform nor uncontested, but bound up with inequities of power and authority in defining futures. The paper draws on postcolonial approaches to conclude that a radical opening of databases and knowledge production might challenge these asymmetries, but that constraints exist because of external pressures and expectations that arise from the political economy of biodiversity conservation.


Available online 7 November 2012